Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reality and Other Fictions

All these years, I've been telling you wonderful people about my novels, with scarcely a mention of my short stories. That's because my short stories have been few and far between. Nevertheless, I've published eleven shorter pieces over the years, in publications as varied as Science Fiction Age, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and the Boston Sunday Herald. And now I've collected them.

The first of two collections is Reality and Other Fictions, now on sale at Book View Café, for the low, low price of $2.99! Here's what it looks like:

Here’s the blurb:
Explore an Earth being devoured by entropy, in the ultimate runaway environmental crisis. Dive the depths of the sea to prevent the mother of all oil spills. Rocket into space as a tourist. Mine the asteroids with your enhanced border collie, in the can-do spirit of classic science fiction. They include Carver’s first published short fiction, and his most recent. With new introductions, all from the author of The Chaos Chronicles and Eternity’s End.

If you've been following my blog recently, you'll have seen my mention of some new stories going up for sale as singles. Some of those are in this collection. Here's the contents page:
  • Reality School: In the Entropy Zone
  • Of No Return
  • Seastate Zero
  • Rocket Ride
  • Dog Star
"Seastate Zero" is available only in this collection, as are the insightful introductions I've lovingly written for each story and for the book as a whole. At least, I hope you'll find them insightful, or at least interesting. I do share some memories I've never written down before about how these stories came to be, and how they fit into my career.

My second collection, Going Alien, is scheduled for late August. It pulls together all of my short work that involves... can you guess? Aliens.

For both of these books, I am indebted to Gretchen, the high school student (now graduated, and valedictorian!) who typed and formatted a good number of them from old paper copies, while helping me as an intern. And equally to Anna King, who provided extraordinary help in wrestling the final formatting into line. Not to mention Allysen, for catching some embarrassing typos and wordos at the eleventh hour. And finally, Vonda McIntyre, author and BVC founding member, who has been tirelessly helpful in getting this stuff up.

Available exclusively at BVC until July. After that, I'll release it to the usual suspects.

I hope you'll give it a try! (Vote for me!)

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My Book View Café Launch!

Book View Café (BVC) is an authors collective of established writers who have joined forces to help each other publish their own backlists as ebooks. Names you might recognize include Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda N. McIntyre, Katherine Kerr, Linda Nagata—and many more. As of June 19, I'm part of that list, and honored to be so. Here's my page at BVC.

To celebrate my launch on BVC, I'm releasing my first-ever short story collection, Reality and Other Fictions. It's on sale as I type this! For the rest of June, it's going to be a BVC exclusive. Why? Because BVC is a great store filled with great authors, and it deserves enthusiastic support. If you buy a book from a favorite author at BVC, the author gets the highest percent of the money of any bookstore that's not actually on an author's website. Because people help each other so much in the whole process—everyone pitches in with their own particular skills—the production values are high. And the books are, of course, DRM-free, meaning no annoying copy protection to keep you from moving it from one device to another, regardless of type. If you want to convert your book to a different format, do so with our blessing.

Can you use these books on a Kindle or a Nook or a Kobo Reader or a Sony Reader?  Absolutely. (Just make sure you download the right format for your reader.)

By the way, BVC is not the same thing as Backlist eBooks, about which I've written in the past. The two groups have similar goals, and somewhat overlapping memberships. But Backlist eBooks primarily gathers writers together under one site for mutual help with marketing and promotion. Book View Café is more like a cooperative ebook small press, with its own store. It's even beginning to distribute to libraries!

My next post, which I am going to start writing as soon as I'm done with this one, will tell you all about Reality and Other Fictions.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

What Is Reality?

My vision is all foggy right now, from having my pupils dilated by the eye doc.* That makes it hard to do any real work, so I decided to use the first hour of my enforced leisure to... well, leiszh, as Julia put it. I checked the DVR and saw that it had recorded the first episode of a new science show called Stephen Hawking's Grand Design. This episode was about the meaning of life. (Which we all know is 42, but never mind that.)
*That's no longer true, but it was true when I started writing this.

Now, my admiration for Stephen Hawking as a physicist and science communicator knows few bounds, and I was as geek-happy as anyone when he made his appearance in Star Trek: the Next Generation. But I wonder if he oversteps his area of wisdom when he speaks as a philosopher. In fact, in the opening to the show, he makes the statement, "Philosophy is dead." Because physics killed it. Because everything in the universe is defined by physics, so (he implies) the soft disciplines need not apply. Strong statement. Does he support it? He tries. His approach is unabashedly reductionist. 

The show went on with a moderately interesting overview of all of the ways physics rules. Lots of pretty graphics, and nothing you don't already know. I started to feel that I was listening to Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory discourse on the supremacy of theoretical physics. Having established that physics rules over everything from quarks to the cosmos, Hawking proceeds to ask whether free will really exists. How can it? he asks, when our impulses and actions are governed by physics, when our actions and even our feelings can be influenced by electrodes in our brains, giving only the illusion of our own control. Ah, but what about chaos and unpredictability? Does that allow free will, or at least explain our perception of it? I don't think he gave us a yes or no—or if he did, it was while I was in the kitchen getting a slice of pizza.

I kept waiting for him to bring quantum uncertainty into the question, but that never came up. That surprised me, because from a mechanistic, physical point of view, quantum uncertainty seems to be an elephant in the room in any discussion of free will. If we're all just a collection of particles behaving according to physics, what does it mean if we fundamentally cannot predict or even measure completely the behavior of an individual particle? Perhaps a topic for another time, but it felt like an odd omission to me. Still, that wasn't my problem so much as his assertion that particles and firing neurons are the sole explanation of consciousness and mind. Do I object to it as a hypothesis? No. But is it fact, scientifically provable fact? Of course not. We're far from being able to prove such a thing. I doubt we ever will. In fact, I don't even think it's true. (That's a personal opinion, not a scientific assertion.) 

Hawking avoids any discussion of God or spiritual dimension, though it's easy to infer that he simply regards these matters as outside the bounds of reality. He does talk, though, about differing subjective views of reality. He offers the charming example of a fish peering out through a distorting fishbowl (or a guy peering through foggy vision?). He goes on to say that it's entirely possible that we're all just code running inside a gigantic, cosmic computer. How would we know? (But wait—wouldn't that, if true, render moot all of the previous discussion of physics controlling everything?)

It comes down in the end, he says, to finding the "best fit" among models of reality. What model "best fits" the evidence? Fair enough. But it seems to me that that's where his physics and his philosophy get tangled up. His best fit seems to include "scientific" assertions that really haven't been proven by science, and probably can't be. I'm thinking, maybe Hawking should stick to the physics he does so well, but not claim for it powers beyond its reach.

"We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality." —Albert Einstein


Monday, June 11, 2012

The Industrious Richard Bowker

My friend Richard Bowker certainly is a busy fellow. He's released two more of his novels, a thriller called Replica and a murder mystery called Senator, in the Kindle and Nook stores. I've read them both, and recommend them unreservedly. In fact, both went through the rigorous vetting and improvement process imposed by our writing group. Both are previously published. You can read some sample passages on Rich's blog.

(originally published by Bantam)

(originally published by William Morrow)

While you're looking, you might want to pick up his original-to-ebook novel Pontiff, currently on sale for $.99. I give this the same thumbs-up. Don't be put off by its lack of a print edition. That was simply a dumb oversight on the part of the publishing industry. It's good.

Pontiff $.99
Ebook original

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Venus Video Montage

Mars shouldn't get all the glory. I used to travel to both planets regularly in my head, via the great stories I read. One of my favorites, when I was about twelve, was the Tom Corbett Space Cadet book, Revolt on Venus.

Venus just made the last transit across the face of the sun that will be visible from Earth this century. Here's a lovely montage of video images in various wavelengths taken and edited together by NASA. Who says NASA has no poetry in its soul? You can make it full screen for best effect.

View on youtube

And just for fun, here's a time-lapse shot from the last transit, in 2004, showing the International Space Station and Venus making a transit across the face of the sun, almost as if in formation.

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To Mars Via Reality TV?

I wonder what Ray Bradbury would have thought of this. The Mars-One project proposes to send permanent (for the rest of their lives) colonists to Mars, funding coming from reality TV coverage:

View on youtube

They've got Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gerard 't Hooft on board. More on the story from NBC News. I wonder what Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society thinks of it.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury, SF Master (1920 – 2012)

Ray Bradbury, the last of the Big Four in science fiction, died today. Over the years we've lost Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and now Ray Bradbury. We've lost many other great writers, of course, but few would argue with placing those four at the top in their influence on the literature, and influence on young writers. It's like the passing of a Great Age in Middle Earth.

Bradbury was a master of the short form, and probably the first acknowledged science fiction writer to gain the respect of the mainstream literary world. (Probably because he was at heart really a fantasist more than an SF writer. He was also a remarkable stylist.) Did your high school literature book have any science fiction In it at all? If it did, it was probably by Ray Bradbury. "The Pedestrian," maybe. Or "The Veldt."

He wrote for the screen, as well. I'd been a fan of his fiction for many years before I discovered that he'd written the screenplay for the 1956 John Huston-directed adaptation of Moby Dick, with Gregory Peck and Richard Basehart.

I was one of probably thousands of young writers who found both encouragement and frustration in reading his work. (My favorites: The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes.) The encouragement is from the delight in reading his visions. The frustration is from the illusion he cast that it was all so easy. He really made storytelling look simple. And that is a mark of a master. I never knew him personally, though I saw him a few times at Nebula Awards events. The last time, I think, was when I saw him accept his SFWA Grandmaster Award in... you know, I don't remember the year or the city, but I can see him inching his way up to the stage, with the assistance of his son, as though it were yesterday. Edit: I also remember that he had a sense of humor about his infirmity. When he finally got to the microphone, his words were, "Do you ever have the feeling that everyone's watching you?"

There's a fine remembrance at the Washington Post, and all kinds of interesting details on his Wikipedia page

Godspeed, Ray Bradbury!

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Monday, June 04, 2012

We're Doomed!

Scientists have confirmed: the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is on a collision course with our own Milky Way galaxy. When the centers of the two galaxies collide, or even shear past each other if it's a near-miss, there's going to be an awful lot of cosmic smacking around happening. Eventually the two galaxies will probably merge, turning two beautiful spirals into a huge elliptical blob. It's hard to say what will happen in our corner of the action, about two-thirds of the way out from our galactic center. It's possible that it'll just be a mind-blowing light show. But I'm not counting on it.

This could happen in the next four billion years. We've still got time to pack. But we're fools if we don't get working on that star drive right now.

Here's an artist's conception of what it might look like, mid-tango. See it bigger at Astronomy Picture of the Day. And see what the stages of the collision might look like here, where you can also read more about it.

Seems to me there should be a good science fiction story in this. Probably more than one.

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Saturday, June 02, 2012


Great news from my agent —nine of my novels are being signed to become audiobooks! I am excited. I've been wishing for this ever since I became hooked on listening to audiobooks myself. This package does not include my Chaos Chronicles book, and won't affect our homebrew full-cast audio production of Neptune Crossing (still in the "we hope to get started again realsoonnow" stage). It does include most of the Star Rigger books and several of my standalone novels. Nothing's ever final until the contracts are signed, of course, so I should probably hold off on more specific details until things are official.

My own love affair with audiobooks started when I discovered you can download them for free from the public library and listen to them on your favorite MP3 player (a Zune, in my case). I love listening to books while walking the dog, which I do for at least an hour every day. I've been listening to a lot of books outside my own genre, books I'd never find time to sit down and read, even as ebooks carried in my pocket. I started with Robert Parker mysteries, and moved on to some thrillers. I've learned that the voice of the narrator makes an enormous difference even with a good book. (With a bad book, it just makes it harder to decide when to give up.) In some cases, I've stumbled onto some fine listening simply by looking for other books read by a narrator I like. Here are some of my recent favorites:

  • The Jack Reacher series, featuring a retired MP turned wanderer, by Lee Child (read by Dick Hill)
  • Cold Choice, a well-crafted and realistic submarine thriller by Larry Bond (read by Dick Hill)
  • The Myron Bolitar series, featuring a pro sports agent who sidelines as a detective, by Harlan Coben (read by Jonathan Marosz) [The last couple in the series were narrated by other readers, including the author. Not even in the same universe.]
  • Leviathan, Behemoth, and Goliath—a young adult, alternate history, SF series by Scott Westerfeld (read by Alan Cumming) [This one the library only carried on CD.]
  • Ender's Game, the SF classic, by Orson Scott Card (read by Stefan Rudnicki, with Gabrielle De Cuir and David Birney, Scott Brick, Jason Cole, Harlan Ellison, Christian Noble, Don Schlossman, M.E. Willis and Orson Scott Card) [Ditto, on CD.]
What are your favorites?

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Friday, June 01, 2012

Book View Café Grand Reopening

I've just joined Book View Café, which is an authors' cooperative filled with great authors helping each other to republish their backlists and get excellent books back into print, via ebook. Members include Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda N. McIntyre, Linda Nagata, Judith Tarr, Pati Nagle, Patricia Rice, and lots more. It's a little like Backlist eBooks, which I also belong to, but is a lot more hands-on with the actual publishing, with its own bookstore and members actually volunteering cooperative-style, to help build the books, design covers, etc. My own books will start appearing there over the coming months, with my official "launch" on June 19 to feature the first of my forthcoming short story collections.

These hard-working people have just completely redesigned the bookstore, and today marks the official grand opening. Complete with a contest to give away some free books! Here's the announcement...

Book View Café is celebrating the opening of our new, completely-redesigned bookstore by giving our readers a chance to win the book of their choice free. Just take a look around the store anytime up until midnight, June 8, and choose the book you’d like—all the books that are eligible for the giveaway are marked with a gold star. Then come back here and leave a comment with the name and author of the book and why you want it (we may use that comment for publicity purposes). You can also leave comments on any of the author blogs listed on the promotions page. When the promotion ends, winners will be chosen, and free books passed out! Check out the celebration here!

It's a great bookstore, so do stop by and browse. All ebooks in the store are DRM-free and available in multiple formats for Kindle, Nook, and pretty much all other ebook devices.

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